Want to weigh in on new construction in your neighborhood?

Over the summer, Juliana wrote a Help Desk about a construction project taking away parking in Rittenhouse Square. It mentioned that the city was working on a new zoning code, which would include an attempt to give neighborhood groups a more formal voice in the city's development approval process, so they'd have a way of giving input before construction starts.

Well, a draft of the zoning code's been out for a couple of weeks, and after reading a good analysis of the code over at PlanPhilly, we thought we would give a quick overview of how that community process would work. Civic associations registered with the Planning Commission would be entitled to formal notice when developers try to do any of four things:

  • Put in a regulated use, like a jail, gun store or adult store.
  • Seek a zoning variance, which is when a developer goes to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for permission to build something that's not allowed in the zoning code.
  • Apply for special exception approval, which allows the city to do an in-depth study of a particular property's proposed use.
  • Apply to build a building large enough to trigger a new process called a "civic design review." This will involve a committee of development experts chosen by the mayor, along with a representative from the local civic association, who review and provide feedback on the project. CDR will mostly be triggered when a large development is proposed near a residential neighborhood.

In these cases, civic associations would be entitled to sit-down meetings with developers where they can make recommendations about the proposed development. The recommendations won't be binding, but the Zoning Code Commission, which wrote the proposed code, thinks the set-up will strike a balance between the need to get community input on controversial projects and the need to move development forward.

The proposal is getting tweaked before being presented to City Council for a vote. You can read the code and send comments into the commission here: http://www.zoningmatters.org.

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